I am afraid. Not of life, or death, or nothingness, but of wasting it as if I had never been.
Charlie has come to terms with the temporality of his intelligence, and the temporality of his entire human life, as well. Charlie is painfully aware that many people, like Professor Nemur, treat him as though he never really existed as a human being. Now that he has been given a new “normal life,” Charlie knows that he must finish this off with fully utilizing it, as a retort to his former mental disability.
Downhill. Thoughts of suicide to stop it all now while I am still in control and aware of the world around me. But then I think of Charlie waiting at the window. His life is not mine to throw away. I’ve just borrowed it for a while, and now I’m being asked to return it.
Charlie contemplates killing himself as he realizes his mental deterioration, but prevents himself from ever taking any action when he considers his past self. Charlie knows that the other Charlie Gordon (his mentally impaired self) is in the past, and the past is real, and he feels obligated to give this life back to that Charlie. He understands that the experiment is artificial, and in an act of humility to nature and the natural forces, he willingly gives himself back up to what he was before.
One of the things that confuses me is never really knowing when something comes up from my past, whether it really happened that way, or if that was the way it seemed to be at the time, or if I’m inventing it.
After remembering many of his childhood memories, Charlie has to work at putting together all of his memories and thoughts together into a coherent identity of himself. With his newfound self-awareness, Charlie also understands that humans are very capable of imposing narratives on their pasts. In fact, Charlie’s progress reports are his own way of imposing a coherent narrative on what has happened to him and what is currently happening to him.
I’m a person. I was somebody before I went under the surgeon’s knife. And I have to love someone.
One of Charlie’s central aims is to understand the relationship between human affection and intelligence. Before he “went under the surgeon’s knife,” Charlie thought that intelligence led to affection. Afterwards, however, he discovers that this is untrue and that human affection is still so necessary, and that intelligence alone will not suffice. Loving and receiving love are integral parts of being someone — of being a person.
What’s right? Ironic that all my intelligence doesn’t help me solve a problem like this.
As his intelligence increases, Charlie realizes that intelligence does not solve all of his problems. Previously, he thought that being smart would make him loved and popular. However, after discovering that his “friend” Gimpy at the bakery is stealing from the owner, Charlie is faced with making a moral decision. During his talks with people for advice on how to handle this situation, he realizes that he needs to make this decision himself, and decide based on how he understands the situation. High IQ alone is not enough to take care of basic human issues, in which emotions and morality are mixed in.
Don’t think about it… Feel it. Let it sweep over you like the sea without trying to understand.
In many ways, Alice Kinnian is Charlie’s emotional teacher as much as she is his grammar/school teacher. When she and Charlie fall for each other, she is also the reason he pursues emotional maturity as well. When they are listening to the concert in Central Park, she teaches him that the only way to understand Debussy is to “feel” it, and not to dissect it in an intellectual way.
My God!... Sculpture with a living element… It could be self-perpetuating art, a creative experience for the art lover. You get another mouse and when they have babies, you always keep one to reproduce the living element. Your work of art attains immortality.
Fay, the energetic artist, immediately calls Algernon’s maze in Charlie’s apartment a “sculpture.” By calling Algernon the “living element,” she is making his life — and Charlie’s — into works of art of themselves. However, Charlie soon realizes that human life is mortal and that the only things which outlast the individuals themselves are the works of art or science that they put out. Charlie eventually regresses, but his article about the Algernon-Gordon effect helps him attain immortality.
He [Nemur] doesn’t realize that find out who I really am – the meaning of my total existence – involves knowing the possibilities of my future as well as my past, where I’m going as well as where I’ve been. Although we know the end of the maze holds death (and it is something I have not always known – not long ago the adolescent in me thought death could only happen to other people), I see now that the path I choose through that maze makes me what I am. I am not only a thing, but also a way of being – one of many ways – and knowing the paths I have followed and the ones left to take will help me understand what I am becoming.
This is one of Charlie’s finest moments, an elocution which ties together many of the previously disparate thematic elements. Charlie knows that his life is a work of art; he is a process, and it is how he lives his life which determines his legacy and who he is, since the end result of every human life is death, regardless. This also helps him understand the struggles he has been having with personalizing “time”: now he realizes how important the past is to the present, and vice versa. This passage of time constructs this path he is taking through the maze.
This day was good for me. I’ve got to stop this childish worrying about myself – my past and my future. Let me give something of myself to others. I’ve got to use my knowledge and my skills to work in the field of increasing human intelligence. Who is better equipped? Who else has lived in both worlds?
Charlie realizes that he not only wants to create some legacy to outlast himself, but he also wants whatever he puts out into the world to help others. He realizes that he has been concerned with his personal narrative: his personal past and future, but that society holds a collective past and future.
Intelligence without the ability to give and receive affection leads to mental and moral breakdown, to neurosis, and possibly even psychosis. And I say that the mind absorbed in and involved in itself as a self-centered end, to the exclusion of human relationships, can only lead to violence and pain.
Another apparent “thesis” of the story is Charlie’s realization about the relationship between intelligence and affection. While it seems that intelligence does come first, or at least this is Charlie’s experience so it is the only vantage point from which he can speak, raw intelligence must be tempered by and modified by human relationships, and ultimately by love. High intelligence is just as alienating as extremely low intelligence.
Flowers for Algernon Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Flowers for Algernon is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.